HAYWARD -- The city is stepping up its efforts to deal with the homeless and illegal activity downtown, including a plan to regulate outdoor food giveaways and an ordinance that would hold landlords responsible for tenants' behavior.

"We have a significant homeless population in Hayward," Lt. Mark Koller told a small group of merchants at a regular monthly meeting Thursday at City Hall. "This is a priority for the city."

Portuguese Park at Foothill Boulevard and D Street has especially become a magnet for informal distribution of outdoor free meals.

"We have people who come here from other communities to feed the poor," said David Korth, city neighborhood services manager. Many are not associated with a particular church or nonprofit group, but want to help others, he said. Not everyone accepting food is homeless.

The city is working on an ordinance to regulate the food distribution and hopes to bring it before the council this fall, City Attorney Michael Lawson said after the meeting.

"We're looking at the best way to regulate it that balances the need for food for people who might be homeless and the quality of life for businesses and residents," he said. Any regulation would have to recognize the constitutional rights of those giving away food, he said.

The city has done quite a bit of outreach with the homeless and organizations who advocate on their behalf, he said.

"The goal is to better organize distribution of food for those who need it, whether it's by organizations or other people," Lawson said. "Clearly, their efforts are well-intentioned, but it still results in conditions that are difficult for businesses and residents."


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There have been problems with vandalism and people littering and relieving themselves in alcoves and other property near feeding sites, Korth said.

"We've been working on the homeless problem for years," he said. One thing that would help is a centralized location that could provide housing and other services, but there's the question of funding and where it would be located. "Wherever we decide, we're bound to run into opposition," Korth said.

The city also is in the early stages of drawing up a social nuisance ordinance, Lawson said. Landlords could be held responsible for tenants' nuisance behavior, such as using or distributing drugs. But he emphasized the focus would be on educating landlords and helping them with lease agreements to regulate any behavior.

Hayward's downtown Green Shutter Hotel has been a long-standing problem, said Stacey Bristow, city neighborhood partnership manager. Her department has been working with police and firefighters, enforcing safety codes to clean up the residential hotel at B and Main streets. Alameda County Vector Control also has been addressing pest problems, and conditions have improved at the hotel, she said.

Contrary to general belief, social service agencies are not giving clients vouchers to stay at the Green Shutter, Bristow said. The hotel has very few residents on probation, said Koller, and police keep a close watch on the building.

Police also patrol sites the homeless frequent: the old Mervyn's headquarters on Foothill Boulevard, and the closed 11-story former City Hall also on Foothill and San Lorenzo Creek. But police have to give three days notice before clearing an encampment, Koller said, noting homelessness itself is not a crime.

"We are chipping away at the problem," Korth said.

Contact Rebecca Parr at 510-293-2473.